Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Avoiding the Kiss of Death in your creative love affair

I recently had a  discussion with an artist who said that she was no longer excited by her paintings.

This seemingly sudden change in our passion for painting is not uncommon. While her artworks were  very well executed (they were representational in genre),  something had happened along the way which meant that they all looked the same as each other - they had accidentally become formulaic.

Others looking at the work would have been very impressed with it, but it reaches a point where it doesn't matter what others think, especially if everyone LIKES it. Is that surprising? In fact, the only thing that matters is the artists own view on the artwork, and remaining critical in a dispassionate way is important. At the beginning, we may desire to hear words of encouragement from others, which often comes in the form of 'That's fantastic', if we're lucky. As a beginner,  hearing these words is enough to spur us on to further efforts at improvement. But after a while, those words aren't actually the reward we thought we were seeking. And along the way, sometimes we get into a Formula for producing artwork, into a sort of predictable Style, and this is accidentally the Kiss of Death for our creativity.  In other words, producing it has become boring... A Formula is formulaic, obviously.

Becoming stylised (whether on purpose or by accident) means that we are no longer paying full attention to what is before us, our Observation skills are on low-alert and the process feels same-old same-old.

While students (and appreciators) may assume that the attraction to producing artwork is the artwork itself, this is a fundamenatally flawed premise.

The attraction to producing artwork is several-fold, and the nature of the attraction, like all forms of love, evolves with time and experience. Over-familiarity, or taking your eye off the ball, or taking things for granted, is a lack of attention. And a lack of attention is the beginning of neglect. If we neglect to behave as if we were still a beginner, searching and striving and stretching, then our artwork becomes predictable. And there it is. The Deathly Kiss. Shudder. We have a fair idea of what the formulaic-artwork will look like before we begin it, so we lose the element of surprise, we lose the Happy Accident, and we also lose the agony and frustration endured in the production of great artwork.

And those are the very things we need in order to keep producing. We don't Need the absolute answer to the image before we start, we don't need the result to be exactly predictable. We need a hill to climb. We are designed to Grow.

So it needs to become progressively harder.

I know. How annoying... But it's never boring. And it's never predictable. It's the opposite. It's exciting, FULL of possibility and it means our creative capacity to grow is never endingly expanding.

So if you think something was 'easy', BEWARE. That means you aren't paying attention.  And Paying Attention is the most delicious thing we can do. Sit up. And LOOK!!


  1. I found this post encouraging. As a beginner I have just tried to complete a part of an assignment that I found incredibly difficult and began to think negatively about my abilities. Now I get it .. This is normal! And, yes at the end it felt like I had been on a journey along a path with twists and turns and steep bits to climb, but I had a sense of achievement too.

  2. Oh how true is this. It mirrors my own struggle to avoid predictability, to strive for a feeling of excitement and anticipation at the unknown. Never to fall into the trap of formula paintings is my biggest goal. Thank you for saying exactly what I feel should be every artists priority.

  3. This all makes sense. Just when I think I've got it sorted it all goes wrong and of course the formula doesn't work and I certainly don't enjoy it. So I just have to knuckle down and start from the beginning again.